TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It was bound to come up sooner or later, so why not right away?
Alabama football coach Nick Saban had been discussing all the positives that occurred in Saturday's A-Day game -- the effort, the toughness, the exciting finish and the announced crowd of 91,312. Then the first question concerning whether his Crimson Tide are worthy of the preseason No. 1 ranking arrived.
Saban grimaced, admitting he really didn't want to comment before obliging.
"If this team is No.1, it's because of what they did last year, because they haven't done anything," he said. "We have some good players back and we have a lot of issues and questions, especially on defense and our specialists in the kicking game. If I was voting, I would think there is somebody who has more players coming back that had a successful team last year that is going to be more ready to compete.
"Do I like our team? I love our team. Do I like our players? I love our players. Do I think we can develop into a good team? Absolutely, but I'm not a big poll guy."
As teams throughout the country continue to wrap up spring drills, the next chapter in the annual college football story involves the barrage of preseason rankings. Almost every publication or Internet site will bestow a No. 1 label on the Tide, despite the concerns Saban mentioned.
Though hype is on the way, players insist it will not be a distraction.
"Last year's team won the championships, the SEC and the national," tailback Mark Ingram said. "This year, we're focused on our team. We can't live in the past, because we're going to be judged by the future."
Said defensive end Marcell Dareus: "This is when it all counts. Even though the coaches aren't going to be on us, we're going to work pretty hard."
Saban believes his team made a lot of progress in some needed areas during the 15 spring workouts. He pointed out the play of sophomore tight end Michael Williams, who is replacing Colin Peek, and said the depth behind starting quarterback Greg McElroy has improved.
As for the defense, which returns just one season-long starter from a year ago, Saban said a lot of questions have been answered behind the leadership of junior linebacker Dont'a Hightower. Tide defenders held their own Saturday, stopping Ingram for lost yardage on each of the Crimson team's first two possessions.
"This defense is young and athletic, and they go against great players," Ingram said. "They won't see much better."
Nobody in college football should see a better tailback tandem than Ingram, who had a 60-yard run at A-Day, and backup Trent Richardson, who had a 28-yard touchdown reception. Several years after Auburn rode Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown to an undefeated season, Alabama did the same with Ingram and Richardson and hopes to make it two straight.
Ingram might be the first returning Heisman Trophy winner who has to answer questions about sharing time.
"Whatever helps this team win," Ingram said. "I'm not selfish, and he needs the ball. That's going to help our team win, because he's a playmaker and he's explosive."